Toronto tenants say landlord is trying to renovict them and warn others not to rent there
Tenants living at 1094 College St. in Toronto say their landlord has consistently harassed, bullied and tried to evict them throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and one resident even put up posters on the property warning potential renters to steer clear of the building.
Briar Nielson currently lives in unit three of the building but is moving out in November, and she said she decided to put up the posters in her final month of residency to raise awareness about the conditions and to support her neighbours.
"People should know what's happening in the community and I don't think most of our neighbours knew what was happening to us," she said, explaining that many of the building's residents have experienced harassment, disrespect, eviction attempts and complete indifference towards the units' disrepair since investor Dani Habbal started the buying process last summer.
So last year our building was bought by investor Dani Habbal, pictured below. He's been pushing tenants out by harassing us and refusing to fix anything in our units.— Tenants of 1094 College (@1094College) October 7, 2020
One of us decided to move on our own terms and put up some signs as a parting gift 😇#NoCovidEvictions pic.twitter.com/Pj7yGytYL7
Nielson said she first began receiving emails and messages asking what it would take for her to leave the building before Habbal even officially became the landlord, adding that it was clear his intentions were to make a profit on the old building by simply making some cosmetic changes and jacking up rent prices for new tenants.
Then, just as the pandemic hit in March, she was served with an N13 eviction notice saying she had to vacate her unit because the landlord wanted to renovate it and turn it into a store.
In other words, Nielson, along with everyone else on her floor, was being renovicted.
Nielson said she doesn't believe Habbal actually has the permits to turn her floor into a commercial space, but using that excuse means he's not required to pay her to leave.
In the eviction notice served to our neighbour during #COVID19 landlord Dani Habbal says he wants to convert the ground floor to commercial use.— Tenants of 1094 College (@1094College) October 9, 2020
Permits the @cityoftoronto website shows the landlord has applied for have nothing to do with commercial use.#NoCovidEvictions pic.twitter.com/em2kExGjc3
Even so, she said Habbal kept pressuring her to move out, so she finally decided to give up and do as he asked — as several of her neighbours had already done — because she just didn't want to deal with the stress any longer.
"It was mentally just too much," she said.
Nielson is officially moving out of her College Street home in November, and she said she decided to put up the posters in her final month there to let other community members know what had been happening and to support her fellow neighbours, some of which she said have been subject to even worse treatment by Habbal.
"He's treated everyone so disrespectfully. People have dire repairs — no fridge, gas leaks, huge floods," she said, adding that unsafe construction has been ongoing in common areas of the building for months, often resulting in scaffolding blocking doors, dust pouring through ceilings and more.
And yet, she said whenever tenants are actually in need of repairs inside their units, their requests go unanswered.
"He doesn't want to be a landlord," Nielson told blogTO. "He looks at real estate as a commodoty, but when you buy a building that people live in this isn't just a product, this is a home where we should feel safe."
Habbal did not respond to multiple requests for comment from blogTO.
Brad Phillips is another resident at 1094 College St., and he said just eight tenants now remain in the 22-unit building.
"He hasn't been able to rent a single apartment 'cause they're so expensive, the renovations are shoddy, and the building still looks like what it is from the outside — a cheap Little Portgual walk-up," he said.
Phillips' wife, Cristine Brache, meanwhile said the landlord has been entirely negligent about his job and has repeatedly ignored numerous emergencies.
"Me and another tenants' fridges don't work and he doesn't care. Another tenant had CO2 poisoning due to a leak and he doesn't care. Our front door was broken and couldn't be locked properly and it took him eight months to fix it once we went to the LTB," she said.
"Other tenants have filed but he hasn't done what he agreed to and the LTB doesn't seem to hold him accountable or care. Many things. The list goes on and on. He has contractors harass and insult us. He's rejected our rent payments and then served us eviction notices for non-payment."
Phillips told blogTO he and other tenants have been working with Parkdale Legal Aid to try and figure out their rights and how they can fight back, and he's even compiled a detailed document outlining every interaction between residents and Habbal — a copy of which was sent to blogTO.
Cole Webber, who works at Parkdale Legal Aid, said he's been meeting with the tenants to help them learn about their rights in this situation and encouraging them to collectively resist renoviction by the owner.
Seeing as tenants report that Habbal has used a variety of pressure tactics against them to try and push them out of their homes, including refusing to do repair work and replace broken appliances as well as harassment in the form of repeated calls, texts, emails and home visits insisting tenants move out, he said it's his opinion that the landlord has not upheld his obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act.
"As market rents have risen it has become more common for landlords to use renovictions as a means to push tenants out of their homes so they can raise rent without limit on the vacant units," Webber said.
"I expect renovictions in Toronto to escalate next year because the government has set the rent guideline at 0 per cent, adding extra incentive for landlords to evict sitting tenants."
And since many of the older buildings where landlords are trying to renovict tenants contain some of the last truly affordable units in the city, some tenants that get pushed out, such as Nielson, are making the difficult decision to leave Toronto altogether.
"I'm leaving Toronto because where else am I going to get another one-bedroom apartment that's under $1,000?" she said.
Nielson said she's been toying with the idea of leaving the city for a while, but she likely wouldn't have decided to move home to Uxbridge this quickly if she hadn't been forced into it.
"The climate in Toronto, I feel like people see real estate too much as just a business venture," she said. "They don't look at the human factor."
Other tenants, such as Phillips and Brache, have no other option but to stay in their current home and try and resist eviction for as long as possible despite the hostile, and at times dangerous, conditions.
"It's a similar situation to what you see around town. Landlords using loopholes to abuse their rights and tenants being left powerless," said Brache.
"The city doesn't care about us in a real way. It's a classist system and you need money to beat it. The housing prices go up and our wages don't. It leaves us very little options but to stay."
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